A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2 – The Series Finale

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

 

Spoiler Alert.  If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know, don’t read this.

So, last night I watched it.  Oh, Good Lord.  The only theory that could deflect shame from everyone involved in this fiasco is if the writers had all been fired and instead the Producer’s teenage daughter wrote it, while attending a school dance, while texting her best friends, while breaking up with her boyfriend, during a hurricane.  Even as an ironic joke or as part of a drinking game (let’s say a tequila shot after each important character is brutally slaughtered) it’s unwatchable.  Rather than belabor the point with countless examples of awful television viewing let me cut to the chase.  At the climax of the show the hero is about to betray the world to the devil by surrendering to him this ultimate weapon when he is stopped by a young woman snatching it away.  He then chases her down, beats her into submission and is heading back to surrender it again when his dead mother and dead aunt calling to him from heaven shame him into a debate about fighting back.  But he’s so broken from the beating he’s been given by the devil that the only way he agrees to fight is if his mother and his aunt will fight for and with him.  Think about this for a moment.  A grown man has to be helped in a fight by his mother!  And in fact, most of the damage in the battle is done by his dead female relatives.  This truly represents the low ebb of masculinity on broadcast TV.  After the victory, there’s a sort of alternate reality scene change where all the main characters are alive again and don’t remember any of the climax as if it didn’t actually happen.  Nick starts hugging them all and seems pretty close to blubbering and it’s reminiscent of Dorothy awaking in her bed in Kansas.  “You were there and you were there, and there’s no place like home.”  Good Lord.  Then the very final scene is twenty years in the future and his son and his baby mamma’s daughter (by his mortal enemy and police chief boss) are now Grimms getting ready to head off with Mom and Dad for some good old American Wessen slaughtering.  Good clean fun.  Good Lord.

I confess I liked this show when it first came out.  My only defense is that it was in the early Obama years and I needed something absurd to allow me to think that maybe none of what was going on in the world was real.  After all, if a whole American city could be composed of monsters without any humans suspecting then maybe somehow the world would manage to escape the Obama presidency without mortal damage being done.  Silly me.  Luckily, now we’re in the age of Trump and I don’t need fantasies to distract me.  The reality is bizarre (and entertaining) enough.  So, farewell to Nick and Juliette.  Farewell to Monroe and Rosalee.  Long may you inhabit Wessen-infested make-believe Portland Oregon which is a distinct improvement over the actual horror of SJW infested Portland.

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

A eulogy is supposed to be praise spoken over the deceased at his funeral.  It literally means “good speech” in the Greek.  So technically I suppose this should be called a kakology* because I won’t be saying too much good.  Maybe what this should be called is a post-mortem.

I started watching Grimm when it premiered in 2011.  When it began I thought it was fun.  The special effects were alright and the conceit that just about everyone in Portland Oregon was a monster (called Wesen) hadn’t yet become a reductio ad absurdum.  Also, I hadn’t grown to despise most of the characters yet.

I’ll give my analysis for what went wrong with Grimm.  I think the problem with any of these urban fantasy TV series is the open-ended aspect of weekly TV.  While it is possible to advance the “mythology” component of the show toward some long-term plot line in a way that can be sustained for several seasons, the single episode plot component needs to have some interesting writing each week to prevent the show from seeming repetitive and boring.  I mean, how many ways are there to have the protagonist (Nick, the Grimm) skewer the monster du jour with a sword or a pitch fork or a lawn dart?  Eventually the look of boredom starts showing up even on the well-paid actors’ faces.  This is similar to the problem that occurs on all long-running TV shows but it’s especially dangerous to these fantasy shows because the action is already incredibly close to ridiculous from the get go.  It doesn’t take much to achieve the reductio ad absurdum I mentioned earlier.  After all, hiding the prodigious body count of terminated monsters (who revert to human form upon being deep sixed) is kind of hard to justify over the course of years.  And with just about every individual introduced in the series being a Wesen it seems laughable that they haven’t already taken over Portland and massacred Nick and his friends.

Another problem is the lack of likeability of most of the main characters.   Nick’s girl-friend (Juliette) becomes a Wesen and eventually murders and beheads his mother.  And after Juliette is killed (and then re-animated as an emotionless zombie named Eve) Nick becomes intimate with the Wesen (a hexenbiest or witch named Adalind) that was responsible for Juliette becoming evil.  Her ex-lover (Sean who also happens to be the chief of police and Nick’s boss) goes from being an enemy to an ally to a mortal foe of the good guys,  He is also the step father of Nick’s son.  Basically it’s hard to really take any of the relationships seriously or even remember how we got to where the story stands.  However, over the course of the series, the only character that I didn’t come to despise was Monroe.  Regardless of how idiotic the script that this vegan werewolf clock repairman was given, the actor managed to inject humor and interest in the character.

And finally, the biggest reason Grimm stinks is because the plots are all the same.  The variations for why Wesen were murdering the few humans that exist in Portland or each other were wholly unimportant and extremely boring.

I stopped watching the show a year ago.  When I heard it had been cancelled and only a half season was being produced this year I started watching again.  I wanted to see if a short span allowed the writers to sharpen up the plots and give us something worth watching.  So far it hasn’t.  This Friday (March 31st) is the series finale.  I’ll report back afterwards to document whether they could even salvage that.  I’m not very hopeful.

 

*I prefer transliterating the Greek letter kappa into English with the letter k instead of c.

 

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2

More Anti-Asimov Ranting

So, in my last post about Asimov I decried his descent into collectivist propaganda (Foundation’s Edge).

I will continue my diatribe here and show how Asimov devolved from an anthropocentric viewpoint to a proponent of the hive mind.

In 1950 Asimov had a short story called Misbegotten Missionary.   In the story an exploratory mission from Earth visits a world named Saybrook’s Planet that is populated by communal creatures.  Although these creatures take on all the forms needed to make up an ecosystem (microbes, plants and animals) they are all part of one consciousness.  In addition, any one of these creatures has the ability to alter all creatures around it so that all their offspring will be communal creatures too.  The explorers took precautions to protect their ship from contamination by any biological contact.  But unbeknownst to them a solitary creature has stowed away on the ship and is waiting to reach Earth to begin the conversion process.  It somehow realizes that the earth creatures monitor bacteria and the mice that they have on board to detect contamination by an alien life form.  Because of this the creature refrains from altering any of the ship’s life forms to avoid tipping off the crew.  The creature is cryptic and disguises itself as a piece of wire in an electrical circuit on the ship.  By the kind of remarkable luck that only happens in fiction (or the 2016 presidential election) the wire that the creature is connected to is in the circuit to open the ship door.  So instead of converting earth to communalism he gets fried like a death row inmate in Florida.  The conclusion has the crew discover the bullet they dodged and everyone breaths a sigh of relief.

 

Apparently, Asimov was unhappy with this result.  So, 32 years later he corrected this mistake in the Foundation sequel, Foundation’s Edge.  Searching for a mysterious unseen hand in the Foundation universe he follows clues that lead to Sayshell (not Saybrook’s Planet) where he learns of the existence of Gaia, a communal intelligence that not only is composed of all the living things on the planet but also the inanimate components too.  Now of course, this reeks of James Lovelock’s trendy 1970’s theory, The Gaia Hypothesis, that Earth was one big super-organism that had become infected with the human virus (thus the Matrix, thus Al Gore).  Apparently, Asimov had bought into this theory and saw a harmonization (read Borgian assimilation) of humanity by the communal organism as the perfect solution.  And just to make sure no one thinks assimilation is soul extinguishing oblivion, he shows us a human component of the collective who is a cheerful woman who happens to like the protagonist.  So, you see, if you glue a smiley face onto the Borg it’s all good.  And just to make sure no connection to Saybrook’s Planet is possible, the protagonist in Foundation’s Edge is not forced into the hive but gets to choose whether humanity is melted into a collective consciousness with igneous rocks and hydrogen atoms.  You see it’s totally okay!

 

Asimov displays all the symptoms of the proto-sjw that he was.  He dislikes individualism.  He admires the hive.  He desires to remove choice from the currently free.  And he dislikes all this random doing what you want to do (except probably for himself of course).  And finally to hammer home the lesson that humans can’t be left to their own devices we find out that Earth is a radioactive corpse and the whole Gaia situation is a master plan put together by a super-intelligent robot to try to save humans from themselves.

 

So my question is, what the hell happened to this doofus?  And of course, the answer is he just followed the same trajectory as most of the progressives from the thirties who admired the Soviet Union before the Cold War.  Now, Heinlein started out in that camp too.  But when he changed wives and married a conservative he changed course and rejected the hive.  I remember in his novel Methusaleh’s Children Heinlein has a world where a race exists that also possesses a collective mind.  And the humans also had to make a choice.  If they remained they would be assimilated.  Only those who feared death remained.  Obviously, these collective races are the communists.  Heinlein rejected it.  Asimov finally embraced it, much to his detriment as a writer and a man.  But it did finally earn him a Hugo.  So apparently the Hugo had also made the transition by that time.

Asimov, Then, Now and Now and Then

 

If you’ve been following the Puppy vs Pink SF saga you know that puppies come in at least two denominations; sad and rabid.  The Sad Puppies are the disciples of Larry Correia and wanted to draw attention to the incestuous log-rolling that a clique of sjw inspired authors and fans used to monopolize the results of the Hugo Awards.  The Rabid Puppies are the shock troops of Vox Day who despises these pink science fiction folk with an intensity that would be frightening if it wasn’t so hilarious.  He has spent the last two Hugo seasons stuffing the ballot box for such science fiction gems as “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle and “Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock.  But lately the Hugo Award has become routine.  To mix things up he has switched targets to concentrate on one of his favorite pink sf targets, John Scalzi.  Mr. Scalzi and Vox are old “friends.”  Scalzi was the president of the SFWA when Vox was ejected for his unsympathetic feelings toward the left wing of sf.  Vox has spent considerable time tweaking Scalzi whenever he sees an opportunity.  Such an opportunity has arisen.

Mr. Scalzi has written an homage to Asimov’s Foundation Series.  It is entitled The Collapsing Empire.  Vox under his authority as editor of the publishing company Castalia House has released a book called Corroding Empire by the interestingly named author Johan Kalsi.  Vox’s book debuted a day or so before the release date of Scalzi’s book and Amazon was forced to withdraw the Corroding Empire title based on its similar title and author name.  Whereupon Castalia has rebranded the book Corrosion and given as the author Harry Seldon (the hero of Asimov’s foundations stories).  From what I’ve read Corrosion is actually doing quite well.  How all this will turn out is anyone’s guess but as a spectator sport it has been highly entertaining.  But what about copying The Foundation story?  Is this heresy?  Should both sides be shunned?  I’ll tell you what I think.

When I was a kid Isaac Asimov was part of “The Big Three” sf writers (Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke).  I’ve written previously about Heinlein and in summary I think he remains a very important writer from the “Golden Age” and an excellent story teller with the usual exception here and there of bad work to prove that he ruled.

Back then I read all the Asimov that was available including his juvenile Lucky Starr books.  I thought he was very good and I thought his robot and Foundation books were among the best sf around.

Fast forward forty, fifty years and rereading some of these classics (specifically the Foundation Trilogy) I find, maybe not surprisingly, that they don’t hold up as remarkably well as the Heinlein books.  While the plot outline of the Foundation books is still engaging, the characters and the construction are kind of flat.  Truth be told, when I reread it I found myself rooting for the petty kings that surrounded the Foundation.  I thought it would make a more interesting story if the Mule not only reconquered the Galaxy but forced the Foundation scientists to fix his sterility and improve his health.  Thereafter he could go on to conquer the Andromeda Galaxy where there were nasty aliens that really needed their asses kicked by a telepathic mutant with a big nose which is what the story needed all along.  Sort of a galactic Game of Thrones with lots of scantily clad babes and plenty of gore.  Or something like that.

In the eighties or nineties Asimov wrote a sequel to Foundation (Foundation’s Edge).  Now remember, at that time I still thought the foundation books had been great.  I bought the sequel, read it in one sitting and was very confused.  It kind of sucked.  Asimov had become a tree hugger.  In the story the protagonist visits a planet that is based on a communal life force.  Every living thing is part of a collective consciousness.  At the end of the book the protagonist is supposed to decide whether the galaxy should be ruled by the First Foundation, the Second Foundation or Gaia (the collective tree-huggers).  He cops out to ensure a sequel but you can tell his heart is with the hippies.  My reaction was that he was a commie all along and I should go purge my collection of all Asimov.  After that he wrote some sequels to his robot books and I think at some point he merged the two series into some kind of fusion of the two.  So, what does all this mean?

It means that John Campbell gave Asimov a very good plot outline to write a story about (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (in space!) and Asimov did a very decent job with a good idea.  What it also means is that not everything from the good old days was all that good.  Asimov was famous for cranking out work at a tremendous rate.  Sometimes it shows.  Also, he doesn’t write people all that well.  Plot progression he handles pretty well.

My only other thoughts on Asimov is that he really thought robots were the solution to everything.  Once back in the late 1980’s I went to a lecture at Boston University.  The topic was the future and humanity.  Two of the speakers were brilliant physicists Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann.  Dyson had revolutionized quantum electrodynamics and Gell-Mann hypothesized the quark level of particle physics.  These guys were almost Einstein level geniuses.  Their discussion on the possibilities of human endeavor in the far future were dizzying.  Dyson was speculating on how humanity could engineer an escape from the entropic death of the universe and Gell-Mann discussed the possibilities for power generation based on the fine structure of particle physics.  The third speaker was Isaac Asimov.  He got up and said that the most important human endeavor was the creation of advanced robots.  He said when robots had the intelligence that a dog displays when it catches a ball in mid-air then all of humanity’s problems would be solved.  The other two speakers made polite noises and said that was very interesting.  But it seemed like they were embarrassed to be on the stage with this nut.  In retrospect, it’s interesting to remember that Asimov’s New York Yiddish accent made him sound a lot like Larry David.  It probably would make a fairly funny SNL skit if anyone cared about Isaac Asimov that much.  But it cemented my impression of Asimov as a doofus.  After all a robot is a tool.  No different from the invention of fire or the wheel.  It will be used and it will be abused but humans adapt to their environment and that includes the parts of our environment that we ourselves induce.

So Vox and Scalzi borrow away.  Asimov is not divine and his story was stolen from Gibbon first and handed to him by Campbell so what’s to steal?

The Pink Beetle – A Short Book Review

The Pink Beetle is a novella (it says it’s about a hundred pages) published independently by author Caspar Vega. It’s listed in the sf&f category but I think I’d call it a noir or mystery story. Mr. Vega is on Gab and I’m interested in things that aren’t sanctioned by the mainstream institutions so I figured I’d give it a try.
Well, it’s definitely different. I think the best way to describe this story is staccato. There is no attempt to use smooth transitions between scenes in the story. There are no bridge elements between the wildly different sections of the book. Beyond this the writing style is extremely spare. The scenes are like sketches. It is minimalist.
With respect to influences on the story I’d say noir is the strongest. Who is this book for? Well I can say who it’s not for. Anyone who is looking for a refined, highly structured literary story does not want The Pink Beetle. This is more like a two-reeler that went before the main attraction at your local movie house when my parents were kids.
So, did I like it? Yeah, I did. He’s got three other books in “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series” and I think I’ll try another one soon. But this is definitely one of those yes or no things. If you don’t go in expecting something that’s more than a little odd and different, you’ll be disappointed. And who knows, even if you are it still might not be your cup of tea.

The Eclectic Prince by Caspar Vega – A Short Book Review

Rabid Puppies 2017

Any fear that the annual Hugo debacle would be called off on account of boredom is allayed. Vox has posted his slate and it includes the now obligatory dinosaur buggery story. But there has been tactical change. The E Pluribus Hugo rules change means that attempting to monopolize every nominee spot is futile. So for the most part a single nominee is listed for each category. Some but not all of the nominees are Castalia House authors. For the VFM of Vox Day these choices (including “Alien Stripper Boned from Behind By the T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock!) are a duty that allows for no substitution. For others, these are a list of suggestions that provide choices that don’t correspond to a social justice slate. I’ve found Castalia House a very reliable source of enjoyable fiction. But of course, one man’s meat is another’s poison, so decide for yourself.
One interesting development that may or may not be related, Vox included File 770 as a pick for BEST FANZINE but that blog asked to be left out. Now, File 770 despises Vox and all things Puppy, so possibly this is one of those reactionary withdrawals but who knows?
So, I’ve got some reading to do. Although I can confirm that Deadpool would already be my choice for “BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM” (movie). I await also the lists that the Sad Puppies put out. These new choices from the various puppies, sad and rabid, are a boon to old timers like me who decades ago despaired of ever seeing old time fantasy and science fiction. If you are of a like mind I recommend you give the puppy choices a look see.

Rolf Nelson’s Back From the Dead – A Short SF Book Review

I just finished this first volume in a series named “The Stars Came Back” and I’m sure I’ll be reading the sequel when it appears.  The back cover says that the series “combines military science fiction with the classic space western” and I will agree.  The universe that this book inhabits has humans spread out on over a thousand planets.  These worlds were terraformed during an expansion era that ended with a supernova occurring nearby that disrupted faster than light (FTL) travel for an extended period of time and threw these new worlds on their own devices to survive (or perish).

The various inhabited planets we see or hear about contain bits and pieces of one or more Earth cultures.  One of the problems that seems to exist in most of the locales we see is a bureaucracy that preys on the citizens using stifling regulation to punish citizens monetarily and otherwise.  The tone of the book shows a preference for more personal freedom and less government interference.

The main characters become involved in a project to rehabilitate an unusual transport ship that brings together military and civilian personnel in an interesting cooperation that slowly unfolds some puzzling characteristics of this odd “Flying Dutchman.”  The cast is a mixture of men, women, a child and even an AI who runs the ship.  The military component of the story I found most engaging.  The interaction of the NCO with the recruits and his officers is familiar and adds the familial attachment and common cause aspects of the story that makes mil sf so enjoyable for many.  There are several battles both on planet and off that I thought were well done.  I found most of the characters engaging.  It will be interesting to see how the various interpersonal dynamics work themselves out over the course of the series.  And, of course, the secrets of the ship will be interlaced with them.

So, I’ll give an enthusiastic endorsement to “Back from the Dead” and recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic sf and especially mil sf.

The Puppies of 2017

On Monday, I received an e-mail from “Hugo Awards 2017” that said, “I’m very glad to be able to tell you that nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards are now open! As a member of MAC2, you are eligible to nominate in the 17 Hugo ballot categories covering the best of the genre in the last year, and for the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer.”  And, so continues a five-year tradition of melodrama and degradation almost unparalleled in the annals of genre literature buffoonery.  Yes, the pageantry and butt-hurt that is the puppy-era Hugo Awards is back again.  Huzzah!

And I think we have reached a new stage in this evolution.  Everyone realizes that rapprochement is impossible and now it’s just a matter of how much infamy can be heaped on your opponents.  From the point of view of the puppies’ side (sides?), winning Hugos isn’t seriously considered as an objective.  The folks at Tor have shown that their allies in the media can crank out a blitz of news pieces tarring the puppy side as deplorables and this will inspire enough people into battling the reprobates with no-award votes and assuring that some of the Tor books will win.  And the puppies (mostly the rabid variety) will be able to slate a number of bizarre nominations (Space Raptor Butt Invaders!) to make the Hugos appear ridiculous and simultaneously put a monkey wrench in Tor’s system of rewarding lower level authors with unsuccessful Hugo nominations.

So, there is a sort of a stand-off.  It’s like one of those Three Stooges routines where Moe, Larry and Curly are locked down into some kind of circle-slap-fest.  They’re each almost exhausted but there’s no way to exit the contest.  Now I say this in full realization that I’m Curly and, of course, I want to beat Moe so, let the eye poking proceed.

Actually, there’s kind of a comforting feel to the procedure.  It must have been like this in the middle stages of the trench warfare during WWI.  You had progressed past the belief that a charge would result in anything but mass casualties so you settled down to lobbing shells and poison gas canisters.  You knew your script and hating the Hun was easy and kinda fun (except for the dysentery and shrapnel).

This year I’ll follow the venomous fun and nominate the stories I’ve enjoyed.  But I can’t care very much if the cabal gets a few awful stories awarded.  On the other hand I’m looking forward to the Dragons.  Last year was surprising.  Without the negativity I felt almost disoriented.  An award ceremony without pomposity.  It seemed like some guilty pleasure.

Anyway, I have to confess that after the vote in November it’s a little difficult to get upset about the Hugos.  What I’m hoping for this year is a Trump themed campaign.  Maybe a YouTube video entitled “Make the Hugos Great Again.”  Possibly Milo Yiannopoulis could write a novella entitled “If You Were a Deplorable My Love.”

So there it is.  The Hugos have become a kind of tradition where the event is almost completely antithetical to the intent.  Sort of like watching Dick Clark’s Rocking New Years’ Eve after there’s no Dick Clark or Rock and Roll and you really can’t remember why you want to stay up on New Year’s Eve and watch Mariah Carey lip-synch her songs in a spandex sausage casing.    So, the Hugos aren’t actually about picking the best sf&f stories anymore but instead a cautionary tale about what happens when the patients take over the asylum.

But in the words of George Constanza, “You wanna get nuts?  Let’s get nuts!”

The First Urban Fantasy:  A Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas to all from the management of Orion’s Cold Fire.  Now the title of this post is admittedly a stretch.  But it is a ghost story and it does take place in an urban center.  I guess it would be adding insult to injury to claim steampunk status too, so I won’t.  I gladly confess I’m a huge fan of this tale.  I first remember running into it as a boy when my older cousin played Mr. Fezziwig in a grammar school production.  I don’t remember much about that production other than the fact that Fezziwig was actually wearing a gray wig.  Since then I’ve read the short book and attended several professional and amateur stage productions.  But the most substantial proportion of my involvement with this story is the hundreds of viewings of the various film versions that have been made over the decades.  Discounting such travesties as the episode made as part of the old television series “The Odd Couple” and the one starring the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, I have watched at least seven separate films.

 

Among the few versions that I still watch, the oddest one is the musical from 1970 starring Albert Finney.  With Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley it includes a scene of Scrooge being installed in Hell by his long dead partner.  I’m not particularly fond of musicals and Finney hasn’t really got a singing voice so there any number of painful moments in this film but the comical aspect of Scrooge is highlighted and allows this version to serve when children are present and might otherwise become bored.

 

Until recently I was of the opinion that the best version was the 1951 edition starring Alistair Sim.  It had a good British cast and possessed a script that amplified the meager details of the novel with some dramatic details of the back story between Scrooge and his sister on her death bed.  It also fills out the history of Scrooge as a businessman and shows us some details of Marley’s death.  It remains in my reckoning a very good film.

 

But as with all other things in life, age alters our opinions and our point of view even about Dickens’ masterpiece.  Of late, I have come to favor the 1984 television version starring George C. Scott.  The balance of the cast is British with Scott the only American.  The script is relatively close to the novel although there are a few touches having to do with Scrooge’s nephew and wife that are innovative.  But in several aspects I find this later version to be the best.  First is the character of Marley.  The actor portraying this ghost is the best of any that have acted the role.  The feeling and meaning he puts into his lines is perfect for that part.  Next is the child playing Tiny Tim.  He is without a doubt the most diminutive and fragile looking child imaginable.  He enhances the reality of what we know is Tiny Tim’s probable fate.  And finally, there is Scott’s part.  He is a powerful man who displays his ruthlessness openly.  George C. Scott was a very good actor and it shows.  He interacts with the spirits as an equal.  He defends his point of view as you might imagine a rational egoist would.  You feel his gradual awakening to the error of his world view as a visceral experience and not just a logical progression.  He captures the transformation that Dickens was portraying.  It’s well done.

 

So, now why do I enjoy this story?  I believe that Dickens’ story captures some essential truth about what it means to be human.  He is trying to show us that in order to save ourselves we have to save those around us.  And not through some social construct (“are there no prisons, are there no workhouses”), but by touching the lives of those around us and lending a hand to the weak.  As a right wing fanatic this is an important lesson to remember.  If you object to the idea of the socialist state then you must instead reach out to the people around you and make things better yourself.

 

So for me this story is a cautionary tale.  Don’t forget that the people out there are real and they are someone’s children.  And they can hurt.  Watch out for them.

 

I’ll end this on a happy note.  As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, every one.”

Heinlein Part 2 – The Juveniles

Heinlein: What’s the Deal With Him?

The Juveniles.  That is where it all began for me, and I was probably typical.  Exploring the science fiction shelf in the kid’s floor of the library I found and read “Red Planet.”  Fantastic.  The characters were intelligent (well the good guys were) and the story combined adventure, humor and a young protagonist that we could root for.  As I worked my way through the series I had no idea that most science fiction (especially juvenile sf) was nowhere near as good.  And I didn’t know why I liked these books so much.  But I do now.  Heinlein had identified something important in how Americans of my generation viewed ourselves and the future.  We believed it was time for humans to push the frontier beyond Earth.  Heinlein had translated the Western into science fiction.  His heroes are easily seen as descendants of the pioneers who pushed across the plains and forests of North America in the 19th Century and colonized a continent.  His families (and they often came as families) were colonizing the Solar System.

Consulting my on-line encyclopedia (specifically Infogalactic) I find the following chronology:

Rocket Ship Galileo, 1947

Space Cadet, 1948

Red Planet, 1949

Farmer in the Sky, 1950

Between Planets, 1951

The Rolling Stones aka Space Family Stone, 1952

Starman Jones, 1953

The Star Beast, 1954

Tunnel in the Sky, 1955

Time for the Stars, 1956

Citizen of the Galaxy, 1957

Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958

 

Interestingly, Rocket Ship Galileo was always the weakest (in my mind) of the novels both in terms of plot and character development.  In fact, it’s the only one I’ve never re-read.  I can see that he had not quite come up with the formula he later perfected.  And just to personalize this, here is my list in order of personal preference (top being favorite):

Have Space Suit—Will Travel

Citizen of the Galaxy

Starman Jones

The Rolling Stones

The Star Beast

Farmer in the Sky

Red Planet

Tunnel in the Sky

Space Cadet

Between Planets

Time for the Stars

Rocket Ship Galileo

Of course, I probably could move around anything other than the top and bottom entries depending on mood.  But this tells you more about me than about the author.

So, as I approach sixty why do I consider these children’s books interesting or relevant?  Was it the extraordinary prose style or absolute unique character of the protagonists?  Not at all.  Heinlein was a very capable writer and wrote clean prose but he was no Faulkner.  And many of his young adult characters are almost interchangeable.  The real reason was because these novels combine all the components of good fiction.  The plots are lively and interesting.  The characters are engaging, sympathetic and admirable.  To my mind, Heinlein in this series is the heir to Kipling’s “Kim” and Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”  You recognize in them a voice that isn’t confused about the rightness of the endeavor his characters are engaged in.  There’s very little of the moral ambivalence that became the defining characteristic of the 1960s and beyond.  This was the spirit of the post-WWII optimism.  This was the high noon of the American Century and it was beautiful.  We would get another taste of this spirit when Ronald Reagan brought back American optimism in the 1980s.  We’ve had precious little of it since.

I’m of the opinion that adopting the same kind of feel to sf today would be popular.  For this reason, I think the Heinlein juveniles (and some of his better adult stories and novels) have value as a template for what to look for in a sf story today.  Lately I’ve seen the beginning of this idea occurring and I see that as a hopeful sign.  If this return to optimistic story style coincides with some kind of a Trump resurgence in American optimism in general it could be a fortunate thing for the sf fans of my grandsons’ age.  So, hat’s off to RAH (and his editors) for producing a set of young adult sf novels that could last a hundred years without aging at all.  I think I’ll re-read “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” for Christmas.